Editorial, The Washington Times, November 30, 2000
The towering impasse
The folks who live around Tenleytown in Northwest Washington are quite pleased with themselves. They railed against the construction of a new telecommunications tower in their neighborhood, and they got the mayor to say, "bad tower" and stop the project. Shame on the Office of the Mayor for reneging.
The tower is needed to help keep the city on the cutting edge of wireless communications, and a business-friendly climate is needed to help keep the nation's capital in competition with a global economy or so one would think. Seems the mayor is more interested in kowtowing to powers that want to be.
The company that owns the tower and the land on which it is being built, American Tower Corp., halted construction per the mayor's instructions but filed a lawsuit, seeking $250 million in damages and the right to resume construction. The Washington business community, meanwhile, says it has "grave" concerns about the signal sent by the city's flip-flop and rightly so.
"The new antenna will be used for digital telecasts for WJLA and WUSA television stations," says an April 16, 1999, memo from the D.C. Office of Planning, which commented early in the application process. The proposal called for American Tower to build a new tower that would replace three older towers in the same neighborhood. Moreover, planning officials weren't the only ones who signed on. The city took American Tower through all the usual regulatory rigors for a full year before granting final approval, including applicable zoning, environmental and building processes. The city issued the building permits in March.
With permits in hand, American Tower began construction. But before summer's end, Tenleytown residents began asking, "Hmm, wonder what that is?" Consider a couple of lines of Tenleytowners' version of broadcast blues: What will happen if ice forms on the tower? Isn't the tower taller than the 555-foot Washington Monument? Did American Tower court Tenleytown taxpayers?
Something's obviously amiss, and it isn't the 581-foot tower that should be standing tall by now:
After residents began complaining, the city issued a stop work order to review the permit process. After residents complained even louder the city conducted another review to ensure American Tower was in compliance with building codes and other applicable laws and regulations. The city found no violations. After residents complained still louder, to the tune of more than 900 signatories, the mayor ordered construction halted. His lame excuse was that the regulatory process needs some tweaking. It certainly does, and so does the entire city. But the Office of the Mayor hasn't shut that down.
What happened to American Tower Corp. in the course of three short months is w-r-o-n-g, and it has sent a very bad signal in the middle of the city's economic renaissance. The Office of the Mayor needs to step up and do the right thing right now by allowing construction to proceed. It really is that easy.